Saturday, May 28, 2005

Iraq stands up

So it appears that Iraq is going to undertake a large security operation starting in a few days time. While I wonder why they announced it so early, I must say that I am very happy to see Iraqi police and army beginning to take steps to handle their own security. This is a major step. It is like someone finally waking up after a very long coma and trying to find their feet after not having used them for so long.

There is also some major symbolic significance to it all. Iraq's current interior and defense ministers are no longer appointees of a government of American appointees. They are appointed by a government that was proudly voted in by Iraqis themselves. Yes, it is only an interim government, a continental congress of sorts, but it is their government and they seem to have been proud of electing it. The primary job of this interim government is to draw a constitution and hold new elections for a permanent government. A second job is to begin to put an Iraqi face on the security situation.

Now that these organs are headed by people chosen by an elected government, a major psychological hurdle has been crossed. Previously, attacks on the army and police were seen as attacks on a government appointed by the occupation. This is no longer the case. Attacks on the police force and army are now attacks on a government that the Iraqis themselves installed. An attack on the police is in a way an attack on each Iraqi that participated. Continued attacks on these institutions of government stand a greater chance of alienating the insurgency than it does gaining support for it. That is a significant change. A sea change, if you will.

Now that the Iraqi forces have announced that they are going to take the initiative in Baghdad, I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end for the insurgency. June is going to be a crucial turning point. Godspeed to the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Is he or isn't he?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might be wounded, or he might not be. He has a problem, that's for sure. A while back, an intercepted message apparently from Osama was urging him to turn his efforts against the US homeland. A message intercepted, oh, about a year ago had al-Zarqawi saying that if the elections happened in Iraq, the days of the insurgency were numbered and their only hope was to incite civil war between the Shiite and Sunni factions. More recently an intercept apparently from some insurgent group to al-Zarqawi complained of low moral, waning support for the insurgency and criticism for running away from Fallujah.

This gives Abu Musab a problem. How can he leave a lost cause to obey Osama and turn his efforts directly against the US? How can he do this without looking like he has run away ... again. If he leaves the country, he becomes a loser. He must leave the country but he must not leave the country. Simple. He "dies" in Iraq, he becomes a hero, takes a new identity and carries his destruction to the US.

I thought it was interesting that a doctor in Ramadi that claims to have treated al-Zarqawi and was told to keep quiet, went directly to the media with the story. If that man is still alive and still practicing at that hospital, I would suspect his story.

Anyway, my guess? It is the beginning of the end of the Iraqi insurgency.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Saddam's Underpants

Well, now we know. Briefs. But still, I didn't really *want* to know. The news comes out in tabloids owned by the same company that owns Fox News. Why did they publish the photos and not go with the much bigger story of exposing who is peddling the pictures?

Nuclear option?

I want to know just who the hell coined the phrase "nuclear option" when describing the idea that Senate rules could be changed to eliminate filibusters for judicial appointments. It isn't like it has been of vital importance in our history. In fact, it has never been used before. No party has ever filibustered appointments that have made it out of committee. That the Democrats are threatening to use that tool disappoints me. They are trying to make an issue that according to The Constitution takes only a majority vote into an issue that requires a super-majority.

That leads me to ask who the hell started with the rhetoric that eliminating Senate filibuster for judicial appointees was a constitutional issue. Nowhere is the concept of the filibuster mentioned in The Constitution. Filibuster exists only in the Senate rules of procedure. In fact, it was sanctified not by the Senators themselves, but by a Vice President who took it upon himself to make the rule by decree when the corrupt U.S. Grant administration began to lose it's congressional majority. Once the Republican Party lost the Senate, the Vice President used his position as President of the Senate to sanctify the filibuster. This allowed the minority party to obstruct the majority Democrats but again, it has never been used ever in history to block a judicial appointment.

I favor complete elimination of the Senate filibuster rule, not just for appointments but for everything. When the people of this country elect a majority party to Congress, they expect that party's agenda to be passed, for better or for worse. The filibuster, for all practical purposes, can be used for anything coming before the Senate and can eliminate the concept of a simple majority vote and turn everything into a super-majority. It is the existence of the filibuster, not the elimination of it, that goes against The Constitution.

The "nuclear option" term is clearly designed to intentionally inflame people and possibly scare them. The idea that the filibuster rule is some kind of constitutional check or balance is a fabrication. So here we have cases of both hype and flat out lying by the opposition party.

There is an even more important issue here. That is the power of third parties. By removing the filibuster, politicians belonging to small parties with few seats have more power because their one or two seats might be enough to swing a majority vote in a lot more cases than they would be able to influence a super-majority. At least with the nearly evenly divided congress we have seen over the past couple of decades.

Friday, May 20, 2005

US labor unions. An important time.

Today's issue is sort of cool for a couple of reasons. It came up in the past couple of days on a BBS I participate in and then today the issue showed up in the news. There were two issues that I found interesting on the other BBS (which will remain nameless because it has nothing to do with any political issues, though such issues do come up in conversation there at times) that came out of a conversation intially talking about political corruption.

It seems that some hold an opinion that the US and it's politcal leaders are very corrupt. That might be but my feeling is that we are much less corrupt than most of the rest of the world. I know that isn't a popular position among the extreme "America is responsible for all the ills of the world" crowd but I have simply not found evidence of the systemic corruption such as one might find most of Central and South America, most of Asia, most of Africa, and a good portion of Europe. Bribery of officials is an accepted way of life for the majority of the people living on this planet. Not only is it tolerated, it is expected. But that is beside the point.

A comment about labor unions got into the conversation and one of the participants replied that unions weren't the cause for corruption. Not "the" cause but I believe they certainly have been "a" cause. This has been shown over and over with the infiltration of organized labor by organized crime. We would not have wasted the resources to create an enforce labor racketeering laws if this weren't the case. So if you accept that unions are at various times under various levels of control of criminal elements, have a look at the activities of organized labor. One thing that stands out is the millions of dollars they contribute each year to political activities. What makes it stand out even more is that well over 90% of those contributions are to one particular party. These unions represent people of all political parties. Their members span the entire spectrum of political thought. Why would the unions take the money that has been paid to them by their members and spend nearly every penny of it on only one particular party? Wouldn't the other party (parties, really) be more likely to listen to the unions if the unions weren't so busy being publically critical and funding the opposition? It seems they would get further by being an important asset to all parties, not just one.

Then I read the news this morning. It seems there is some discontent in the rank and file. In some cases this discontent rises to the heads of the local unions and sub-organizations of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is in the process of its own election campaign. It seems they are tired of being the "ATM of the Democratic Party" in some cases and are calling for change. They want a leadership that is more reflective of the interests of the membership. As if that will happen. Excuse me for my skepticism but unions tend to be rather, uhm, thuggish in their behavior. I have seen it happen with my own two eyes. I have seen someone question the policies of the leadership and being taken aside and having the importance of being a "team player" explained to them. No explicit threats were leveled but the idea that one might have a better go of things if they went along was clearly communicated. In other words, the unions are often intimidating to their membership. The union power tends to flow from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Some unions want to chage this. I agree with them and think that making those kinds of changes might go a long way toward reversing the shrinkage of union membership and improving the lot of the working people in this country.

Of the top ten contributors to political campaigns since 1990, seven are labor unions. The biggest two, and both in the top three contributors, are the American Federation of State, County, and Municpal Employees; and The National Education Association. In the 2004 election cycle, those two unions gave 98% and 93% of their contributions, respectively, to one party. I don't believe that 98% of municipal employees and 93% of teachers are, nationally, members of that party. In other words, I don't believe the unions are reflecting the political leanings of the membership. I believe they are instead reflecting the political leanings of the leadership. In other words, there is a disconnect between the membership and the leadership. It must be difficult to attract new members when your union leadership does and says things that alienate the party that 50% of your prospective new members belong to. At a time when you need to make changes and reach out, to be engaging in practices that alienate 50% of prospective members right off the bat seems counter productive.

Well, some are shouting for change. I find this reporting from the Washington Times to be interesting (albeit the Times as a fairly blatent mouthpiece for the right)

"Several labor unions, such as the hotel workers, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, have sent signals they want to pursue a more bipartisan approach on some issues. Some, such as the carpenters union which left the AFL-CIO four years ago, are giving more campaign money to Republican candidates -- more than 40 percent to House Republicans in the post-2004 election cycle thus far. ""

What I found really interesting is this comment from the Teamsters:

"The core of our belief is that the election last year was lost because we did not have enough union members in the country, said Mike Mathis, political director at the Teamsters union. If the union work force in Ohio were 26 percent instead of 17 percent, given the percentage of union members who voted for John Kerry, then Kerry would have won Ohio and be president now"

Think for a moment about what this statement is saying. Are the Teamsters saying they can "fix" elections and deliver votes? Seems that way to me. It implies that if a truck driver joined the union, his vote would change from Republican to Democrat. It reinforces the idea that the labor unions are nothing more than peripheral organizations for one political party. But there is a major flaw in Mr. Mathis' logic. He assumes that if those people joined the union they would vote in the same proportion as the existing union members. I don't think that would be true. I think they have lost those members *because* the union is so one sided. They consistantly have their head in the sand and are saying "we can convert Repulicans into Democrats" rather than saying "we can appeal to both Republican and Democrats and increas our membership".

Following that line of thought from the Teamsters, you would be expecting them to push for state laws requiring union membership or laws requiring union labor for state projects so the union can control the jobs. That is the crux of the issue. The unions are no longer fighting for the worker, they are fighting for a political machine and people know that. Rather than an employer threatening a loss of a job if you don't accept their compensation offer, the union is threatening a loss of a job if you don't toe the party line. What if they got those laws in place and the union didn't "deliver" the votes? They would crack down on the membership, that's what. They would find people openly questioning the Democrats or praising the Republicans and give them "a hard time". That is the only way the union could ever make good on the statements it is making. They must have some way of ensuring they can "deliver". The unions are corrupt. The unions are a political organization. Let's hope they get their shit together.

Welcome to my world

Hi and welcome to my blog.

I have had one or two over the past several years but I have decided to start from scratch. Sometimes I have things to say about stuff and it is difficult for me to fine a good venue for saying them. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that I tend to hold positions on some issues that are with the left and some (possibly most, currently) that are with the right. Most places tend to be populated with people that lean one way or the other so if I want to blast Bush on his bull-headed opposition to stem cell research, I piss off the ones on the right. If I want to blast labor unions and their lockstep support for the Democratic party, I piss off the left. I find a venue here that allows me to piss off anyone I damned well please for no reason other than because it is my opinion and if it pisses you off, oh well. My intention isn't to piss anyone off but to express my opinions, hopefully engage in discussion about them, learn from other viewpoints, offer my own, and maybe grow in the process.

I will probably keep personal issues to a minimum. I envision this to be an analysis of the world around us, an expression of an initial take on these issue, and then perhaps some reflection, discussion, and refinement. I could quite possibly do a complete 180-degree turn on an issue. I have in the past. Mainly it is due to gathering more info and abandoning an old position as incorrect. I generally don't hold positions closely in an emotional sense. I don't see a disagreement as invalidating or a personal attack. If someone disagrees with my position on an issue my first reaction is to want to know why. What information does that person have that caused them to reach a differing conclusion? If we exchange information and I dismiss their conclusion as incorrect, I am doing just that, dismissing a conclusion, not dismissing them.

So this blog will get political at times, scientific at times, and generally reflect the things in the world that interest me. One thing I have little tolerance for is a "shooting the messenger" mentality. I often see it in the US media these days. When someone expresses an opposing conclusion, too often the reaction is to attack the person and not delve into an analysis of the information that led to that conclusion. This results in an alienating and emotionally charged discussion that devolves into people being mean to each other while they get off the track of the original issue. I don't like that kind of stuff. It isn't productive.

Most of all, it is my blog. I get to choose what goes here. I might use foul language at times. It is a habit I use more in writing than in face to face communications. It is generally used more to set tone than to be lazy. So if the use of such language shocks you, don't read. It is, after all, my fucking blog. There, that should send most of the religious wacko right into the bathroom to wash their eyes out. I also don't have a lot of respect for certain buzzwords but I suppose it depends on how they are used. If you start spouting some well worn and threadbare party taglines, you are likely to be met with a yawn. I don't want to hear what someone else has to say or what the party has to say, I want to hear what YOU have to say.